Tim Clancy started this season hoping to help Hibs end their top-six exile. Now, in one of those quirks that football so often throws up, the Irish defender finds himself trying to consign the Easter Road club to a fourth successive season in the doldrums of the bottom six.
After leaving Hibs by mutual consent in January following an injury-ravaged year and a half in Leith, Clancy is set to line up for St Johnstone against his old side this Saturday in a game that will have a big say in who makes the top six.
Despite his disappointment at being deemed surplus by Hibs manager Terry Butcher, Clancy bears no ill-feeling towards his former team. Nonetheless, he’d love to help sixth-place Saints, four points ahead of Hibs in seventh with a game in hand, kill off the Easter Road club’s hopes of an improved campaign following last year’s seventh-place finish under Pat Fenlon.
“It’s a big game all right,” Clancy said of this weekend’s McDiarmid Park clash. “Both sides set out to get to the top six at the start of the season and now it’s come down to this. If we win the game, we’re guaranteed top six but, if it goes the other way, Hibs will have clawed it down to one point, which will make for an interesting couple of weeks. We’re definitely in the strongest position so we’ll be looking to get the result we need to get into the top six. It’s strange how football works out. It’s a small league and I’ve played for a few teams in it now, so playing against Hibs is just another little chapter for me.”
Clancy, 29, last month signed a short-term deal at Saints until the end of the season as he bids to reignite his stalled career following a spell at Hibs which didn’t go to plan. After a stop-start first season, which ended with him missing out on last May’s Scottish Cup final defeat by Celtic, this season, until the last few weeks, has been an unmitigated disaster for the former Kilmarnock and Motherwell player.
A recurring stomach/groin problem did the most damage to Clancy’s hopes of making an impact at Hibs and the final straw came towards the end of 2013, just as he felt he was putting his injury nightmare behind him, when Butcher arrived to replace Pat Fenlon and decided that he wouldn’t be given a chance to prove himself in the first team.
“It was frustrating how things went for me at Hibs,” he told the Evening News. “Obviously, I had a lot of injury problems and then the change of manager didn’t help. I had a prolonged injury that kept recurring so there wasn’t much more I could have done. The most frustrating part was that there was never a timescale on it. I’d have six weeks out and then it kept recurring, so I’d have another six weeks out and so on.
“I played a few games as well when I wasn’t fully fit because you just want to play in as many games as you can. I didn’t play for Hibs at all this season. We thought the rest last summer would have healed my injury, but it recurred on the first or second day back, which meant I had to have an operation and missed the whole of pre-season. That left me behind all the lads. When I got back fit in September, there was a torn muscle in my stomach which wasn’t seen the first time round, so that then needed attention.
“Then when I eventually got fit again and was just getting near the team, Pat Fenlon left and Terry Butcher came in. I was back training by then, but it was made clear to me in December that it was probably best for me to look for another club. The new manager obviously came in with his own ideas about what he wanted to do, which is up to him, so it was best for both parties that I parted company with Hibs. It didn’t really come as a shock to me because even when I was fit I wasn’t even making the match-day squad of 20. These things happen to players at all clubs all the time, so there’s no hard feelings or anything.”
Getting fixed up with a club above Hibs in the league has helped soften the blow of being cast aside at Easter Road. After making his first competitive start for 11 months – his last appearance for Hibs was in a 0-0 draw at home to Aberdeen last April – in Saints’ 1-0 defeat at home to Ross County on Saturday, he is eager to enjoy a fruitful end to the season with the Perth club, who also have a Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen to look forward to next month.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity I have at St Johnstone so hopefully I can help them finish as high up the league as possible and reach the Scottish Cup final,” he said. “Frazer Wright and Tam Scobbie got injured so they brought me in last month. Then Brian Easton did his hamstring and had to go off against Dundee United, so I came on for my first game last week. I kept my place against Ross County on Saturday, which wasn’t a great result, but on a personal note, it’s just been good to get back out on the pitch.
“It would be great if I can stay in the team and play games, but even if I’m just there to help the rest of the lads and provide cover, I’m just glad to be back involved in the match-day squad after being out for the best part of a year. It’s been a very frustrating time because I missed out on the cup final and also playing in Europe. It’s not been a great period for me, but there’s worse things that can happen in life. I’ve got a good opportunity now, so I just want to do the best I can there.”
Despite being effectively shuffled out the back door at Hibs, Clancy, who is still friends with several of his old team-mates and met Tom Taiwo for dinner earlier this week, insists he won’t have an axe to grind this weekend.
“I don’t have a point to prove to anyone,” he said. “I’ve been in the game long enough to know what I can do. If someone doesn’t fancy me, it’s not in my attitude to say I’ve got a point to prove. The only thing I’m concerned with is impressing my own manager and helping my team-mates.”
Clancy’s main gripe from his time at Hibs is that he was unable to build up any momentum and give the supporters a true reflection of his ability. Having experienced life as a player at one of the biggest clubs in the country, he is hopeful that the long-suffering Hibs fans will have something to cheer in the near future.
“It was frustrating that I never got a chance to show the Hibs fans what I can do,” he said. “I wish I had have done a lot better and played more games, but it wasn’t to be. There’s obviously a big fan base at Hibs and they’re crying out for a bit of success. They almost got there with the two cup finals recently, but they hit the bar, so to speak.
“It’s hard for Hibs to get where they want to be because there are a lot of clubs who want to get there. You look at Aberdeen this season, but their budget is quite a bit bigger than Hibs. They’ve had to wait a long time for a trophy, and the League Cup in particular has been won by a few different clubs recently, so hopefully it won’t be long till Hibs get some success again.”